Romantic Misadventure

[Here is a thing I read to a room full of drunk people in London. It is about: the Internet.]

blackheart

So I’ve been to a whole bunch of these Romantic Misadventure nights and what I’ve discovered is everyone’s had more romantic misadventures than me. Listening to Kit go on about his infinite dates, and Nell Frizzell – who despite looking like (she says) Meat Loaf at the time – being kissed by Cheese & Onion mouths on teenage summer holidays, has all made me a bit jealous. I did none of these things. In my late teens it was probably because I was huge and wide and wore far too much black lace and had big hair and thought Robert Smith was some kind of fashion icon. But before I turned into a looming black mass with some white patches indicating where my face and arms should be, I was just some lanky teenager with basically no friends who might have wanted a boyfriend if the opportunity ever arose, which it didn’t. I don’t know what you’re supposed to take away from these nights other than a hangover but it might be a newly discovered reason for your own failings. It might be that. That is what I have taken away from them, anyway. I had no boyfriends when you people were busy having boyfriends and all these Romantic Misadventures have got me wondering: the fuck was wrong with me? I’ve thought about it I think the things that were wrong with me can be be read through something we all did on that big, horrifying mirror: the internet.

I registered some email addresses in the late ’90s/early 2000s.

I registered a whole bunch of email addresses in the late ’90s/early 2000s.

(To save you the mental maths: I am 27 now and yes, I am panicking about my station in life which currently is one of those bleak ones that you only end up at if you fall asleep on the Northern Line. Moving on:)

A BRIEF HISTORY OF WHY I NEVER HAD A BOYFRIEND IN MY TEENS
AS EXPLAINED THROUGH MY OLD EMAIL ADDRESSES

Looneychick007@yahoo.com didn’t even like James Bond. I was 12, freakishly tall, hugely unsure of myself and brand new on the internet. I had only just upgraded from not using the Campbell family email address, all Netscape and sadness, because I discovered these things are free, you can have your own, and why would anyone share an email address in this day and age? “This day and age” being 1998 and our computer being a box-fresh Hewlett Packard soon to be introduced to the world of computer viruses and porn pop-ups by yours truly.

[SIDEBAR: I stand by this observation I made 15 years ago, and will never be able to get behind the husband/wife email address, nor the husband/wife Facebook account with the profile picture that is a fat-faced child with some ice cream on it. Does this make me unromantic? I like my shit compartmentalised. I have worked in retail.]

Looneychick007@yahoo.com wasn’t even sure how to spell “loony” and asked her mum whether it had an “e” in it or not. When her mum asked “what do you want to know how to spell loony for” this 12-year-old person was too embarrassed to say so, perhaps feeling a brief glimmer of her future self’s embarrassment at this stupid email address (WHAT IS WRONG WITH JUST USING YOUR NAME, I shout at her from the future where I was so late in registering that I’ve had to stick a “y” on the end thus becoming hayleycampbelly, as in “a bit like Hayley Campbell”, as in hayleycampbellish.).

“I just like to know how things are spelled,” I said, because this was true, although branding myself as loony was completely not. Perhaps I knew that if I didn’t know how things were spelled I was unlikely to win all those fights on the internet in my 20s because a misplaced apostrophe or superfluous “e” would render my point invalid. Anyway, mum said it did have an “e” and it doesn’t, but by the time I found that out it was too late. looneychick007@yahoo.com was already using her new email address to sign into Yahoo! chatrooms where her username was, inventively, looneychick007. A girl who was neither loony nor liked James Bond and would never use the word “chick” in her actual life.

“Why are you loony?” chatroom people would ask, after I lied in reply to their a/s/l opener and told them I was completely 16 years old and totally female and definitely living somewhere cooler than the suburbs of Brisbane, Australia. “Cos I just am, I am just so loony,” I would say, all unspecific and crazy, just a machine gun smattering of vague mental illness aiming for some kind of Zooey Dechanel kookiness without actually knowing who Zooey Dechanel was because where the hell was she in 1998. They would be all, “are you loony enough to put my cock in your mouth?” and there would be a pause, the cursor blinking expectantly, because this was the first time I’d ever heard of this thing where people put other peoples’ cocks in their mouths. I’d heard of cocks going up butts (I had recently seen the Stephen Fry film Wilde) but not in mouths. Why would you put something you pee out of into someone’s face? Isn’t that what butts and vaginas are for? It sounded impolite. I figured they covered that in a sex-ed class I missed while feigning illness, Ferris Bueller-style.

“Yes,” I replied, pulling a face. “I would totally put your cock in my mouth.”

“Do you swallow?”

Swallow? Gross. Was he going to pee in my mouth? 12-year-old me wondered what dicks tasted like. I decided that no, I probably would not swallow this person on the internet’s whatever even though he was 18/male/Sydney and worked as “an underpants model”. He said I wasn’t very good at “cybering” and left the room. I had no idea what he was talking about. No boyfriend.

The next email address happened because I hung out with the kind of fellow virgins who would make no moves toward nakedness or sloppy kisses and would instead use their mouths to quote lines in Hackers while watching the Jonny Lee Miller/Angelina Jolie film Hackers. They would do the same for every Kevin Smith film also: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, although the fact that I have no idea what the other one is called means that we all parted company circa 2002. In that time I watched them try to be mini-disc DJs and do a lot of “British people in Ibiza” dancing, because they had seen Kevin and Perry Go Large and thought “big fish little fish” was unironically cool. So anyway, as a result I got snoochieboochies_@hotmail.com. It even came with an underscore, implying that some other loser had already bagged the coveted email address snoochieboochies@hotmail.com. I hope it made him happy. I chose to stick with “snoochieboochies” rather than try some other Jay and Silent Bob catchphrase, like snoogans@hotmail.com, or maybe doobiesnax@hotmail.com or the slightly less appropriate clitcommander@hotmail.com. The fact that I was the kind of person who went straight for a movie catchphrase rather than something horrifying and sexy like glitterlips69@hotmail.com, or luvmexoxo69@hotmail.com, or sugarlips69@hotmail.com like all the other girls at school meant that I was immediately disqualified and was in no way girlfriend material for anybody. Apparently. Plus also it was really annoying to spell.

In 2002 I saw myself in an episode of South Park. It was the one where the boys’ future selves come back in time and everyone’s kind of pissed off about what they’ve become, especially Butters whose future self does nothing but sit at home all day watching Becker. If you’ve never seen the TV show Becker, allow me to explain: in this late ‘90s sitcom Ted Danson wore a terrible wig in his role as a misanthropic GP somewhere in The Bronx. The show revolved around Becker and the things that annoyed him which tended to be everything that wasn’t Becker. At 16 I was doing nothing but sitting at home highlighting the TV guide and watching Becker.

I was Butters’ future self.

In one life-changing (to me) episode, Becker’s receptionist mispronounced the syndrome “Asperger’s”. Several times. Over and over. Unrelentingly, in this one episode she mispronounced a syndrome that some guy in the waiting room had until the joke flailed and died for everyone but me. Ten minutes after that episode aired I was notifying everybody I knew to change their address books because I was no longer snoochieboochies_@hotmail.com, I was now assburgers_with_fries@hotmail.com and still resolutely unfuckable.

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Posted in Essays

Is This Too Soon? Probably.

In these post-Yewtree days I like to think I’m not the only one taking stock of my childhood and the moments in which it is entirely possible I could have been bummed but wasn’t. Is this too soon? Am I alone here? I might be alone here. Probably everybody else out there who had a brilliant childhood with no bummings is simply thinking: “This news is truly awful, all these people off the telly being nonces and that.” This is the correct thought. But I am having another one as well. If everybody fancies children, why was I not bummed?

I went to Catholic school from the age of 5, which everybody knows is prime bumming grounds. Our priest was a nice Irish dude who we would see every morning as we neared the school, wearing all his priestly garb while jumping up and down in the skip, trying to flatten the rubbish. Our school was later shut down due to lack of funds, so this was undoubtedly another penny-pinching device, this thing where our priest was used his own personal body to flatten the school’s rubbish in the manner cartoon Greeks made wine, attempting with all his bodily weight to compact our discarded fingerpaintings and pipe-cleaner artwork into something as heavy as lead with his cassock bunched under his armpits. In order to get out of sports I volunteered to help polish the chalices in the vestry, and once we got to help the priest get dressed, all while not being remotely bummed. I did 12 years of Catholic school a bum-virgin.

Ages 7 through 12 were mostly spent sliding down hills on things with wheels. Skateboards mostly, but we diversified. My friend had made herself a go-kart with planks of wood, a bit of rope, and some wheels off her little sister’s pram. She had painted it black and added white skull-and-crossbones which meant it would be a better, more dangerous ride, obviously. The fashion of the time – the Hayley Campbell fashion of the time – was tiny black bike-shorts with a T-shirt over the top so huge that I could, at parties, stick my knees up under it and pretend to have massive tits. This meant that when I went down the biggest hill in town and decided half-way down that actually it was too big and I was going to die, that when I tried to turn a corner and only I ended up turning the corner while the go-kart careened person-less down the hill towards the intersection, that while I skidded butt-wise across the hot bitumen, that I was essentially bare-assed. I left the top few layers of my ass on that street and bled down the backs of my legs all the way home to my friend’s house where I was then bent pants-less over the kitchen table while her dad fashioned a Frankenstein’s monster of a bandage out of five of his wife’s sanitary pads and dabbed Dettol on my buttcheeks. I was not bummed then either, and the level of mutual embarrassment in that room in 1996 has never been surpassed in any room since.

I have long thought that the cherry on top of the traditional McDonald’s birthday party was this one particular thing I recently mentioned to a group of people who also had a McDonald’s birthday party feature prominently in their sub-10 life. “AND WHAT ABOUT THE BIT WHERE –” I had begun, expecting this to be a shared experience in our group reminiscence, which it wasn’t. We all had our “friends” (“the whole class”) invited, by order of our mums and some envelopes we had to hand out the previous week, to come and have a Happy Meal and a party bag in this tiled room in the basement of the restaurant where there were facemasks and some poor bastard being paid to entertain us. We abandoned this sad Equity member in favour of the jungle gym outside. But between that bit and the fries there was another bit that nobody else got but me.

“Remember when the guy came and took you for a tour of the freezer? That was amazing.”

“….”

“Sure you do! Remember he came and took you away from the party into the backroom with all the frozen chicken nuggets and the mesh fencing and stuff?”

“…”

“And you got to climb up on the ladder and get your ice cream birthday cake down from the shelf? And the guy held your legs so you didn’t fall off?”

“…”

“How were you not bummed?”

“…”

Well, exactly.

Posted in Essays

Every Day I Am Coming

I am still a regular, sweaty face at the gym and it is now June. This means I have reached and breached the point of New Years resolution dissolution; I am still lifting things up, still putting them down, still doing ridiculous things on the butt machine in the corner that only ladies use and wondering why I don’t look like Beyoncé yet. I have lost all shame and now wonder why I don’t look like Beyoncé yet while standing in front of the mirrored wall, lifting one disappointing buttcheek up and letting it drop again, looking angry and disappointed at my butt, the butts in my immediate area, butts in general. Having tentatively gone for the four-month membership bracket instead of commitment unphobically launching into a 12-month direct debit that may or may not have resulted in my still being fat, I have now signed my semi-buff soul on for a whole ‘nother year. As such, I have some suggestions for how this place could be improved. Or one. I have one suggestion. It is this:

Instead of the infinite shopping channel with a bunch of men with terrible hair telling you how to get what is obviously a toupee and in no way achievable with a two-step shampoo system 

Instead of the men in collared T-shirts hitting balls into sandpits with sticks 

Instead of that DVD of Minder that inexplicably plays on that TV in the corner until that one personal trainer gets fired 

Instead of that: play Pumping Iron on a loop. Play Pumping Iron on a goddamn loop.

I think Pumping Iron – and I don’t think I’m alone here – is one of the greatest films you can watch in nine parts on YouTube. For starters there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, all smiles and absurd accent, being genuinely charming but mostly weird in tiny underpants.

AN IMPORTANT ASIDE: If I was in a room with both both ‘70s Arnie and ‘70s cartoonist and sex weirdo Robert Crumb and you said “Hey Hayley Campbell, who would you like to get a piggyback off?” I would be torn for a moment before insisting on both because I’m difficult and female and also 6’1 so you’d be unlikely to stop me and neither would Crumb. Having met 2013 Crumb I feel that our bodies have now reached a point wherein if the smaller haggard one were to bear the weight of the larger, chunkier one that the larger one would be exiled from the world for breaking R. Crumb.
(Although to be fair I cannot think of a more fitting way for R. Crumb to go than to be crushed beneath a giant lady so if he would like to give me a call when the time comes I will happily serve as some kind of Dignitas.)

 

Then there’s Lou Ferrigno in his pre-Incredible Hulk, pre-comic convention circuit, pre-losing his shit on Celebrity Apprentice days, living at home with his parents in Brooklyn and being told “Awh, Loo” by his sweet old pa and looking sad a lot because he can’t beat Arnie, who is busy walking around with some women literally hanging off his ridiculous body. There are the once-bullied, now beef-cake men in leopard print pants, walking around backstage looking for lost T-shirts and trying not to cry. There is literally no part of this film that you can skip to make tea.

Gym, if you play Pumping Iron on a goddamn loop you can take down those posters with stretching tips and instructions on how to use machines. We won’t need them. There’ll be big guys doing push ups with little oily guys sitting on their shoulders in a minimum of: one afternoon. Your members will benefit from Arnie’s motivational speeches. He will tell your wee guys not to hide away: he will tell them to bunch up their wee-guy muscles, spread out, be strong, pretend they’re just very far away. And your members will not disappear in February like they usually do, for we will know why it is that we go to this place, why we are making a big show of wiping butt-shaped sweat off machines like we’re not embarrassed about our phenomenally sweaty asses, why it is we are running on the spot, mindlessly, pointlessly, wondering if that guy’s hair is for real.

It is this:

“The greatest feeling you can get in the gym or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is the pump,” says Arnie reclining by a pot plant (see below).

arnie

“Let’s say you train your biceps, blood is rushing into your moscles and dat’s what we call da pump. Your moscles get really tight feeling like your skin is going to explode any minute, it’s really tight, it’s like somebody blowing ear [IT’S WHAT HE SAID – Ed.] into it. It just blows up and it feels different, it feels fantastic.”

Gym, I can see you’re not convinced. But Arnie – he’s not finished.

“It’s as satisfying to me as coming is, you know. As having sex with a woman and coming. Can you believe how much I am in heaven?”

Can you believe how much he is in heaven?

“I am, like, getting the feeling of coming in the gym, I am getting the feeling of coming at home, I am getting the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up, when I pose out in front of 5000 viewers, I get the same feeling. So I am coming day and night. I mean, it’s terrific, right? So, you know, I am in heaven.”

Every day we are going to the gym and we are coming all over your machines. You are welcome, Fitness First. You are most fucking welcome.

NB. Unsure if this applies to Pumping Iron II: The Women.

Posted in Essays, Ridiculous

On Why Our Author Finds Herself In Her Pajamas at 3pm Awaiting The Delivery of Two Frozen Squirrels

“I don’t want to cause a weird fight or anything,” I said, “But someone’s shoved a frozen pizza on top of my rook. Obviously I can’t bring this up without alerting house to presence of dead rook in freezer.”

“Sweetums. Treacle,” came the reply: “You cannot put a dead rook in the freezer and then not tell people it’s there.”

Previous to this conversation I had rearranged the frozen pizzas, the ancient half-price steaks, and the ice cubes with the breadcrumb dusting, and I had placed in the freezer the following items: two pigeons, one rook (dead). They nestled there wrapped in foil and orange Sainsbury’s bags next to the peas, and would stay there until some day when I would have time to stuff them with woodwool and cotton balls and replace their dead eyes with beads because shitty amateur taxidermists like me do not actually purchase proper glass eyes. We cut corners. We get tired and rush the bit at the end. We make tiny monsters that we keep in our bedrooms that ensure we will never get laid again.

You are forgiven for asking the question I have been asked many times over my life: how did you get this way? Underlying yet completely obvious sub-Q. What went wrong?

I was a kid obsessed with skeletons, so it was only a natural progression to taxidermy given it’s the other fusty old museum bi-product to a life. I’ve liked it ever since I veered off the dinosaur path at the museum into the wing of glass-cased birds. All I wanted to know what what was inside them and where did the guts go. And who did this stuff? Or more crucially: could I do this stuff?

atwork

I grew up and I took a course in bird taxidermy. I stuffed a duck: a proper handsome dude with a green head and white eyeliner and a long elegant neck that I accidentally tore in half at some point in the class. It currently hangs from a bent coat-hanger protruding from a high cupboard, forever looking like it was about to land but then got a fright and didn’t know what to do with its wings. It looks like it’s screaming while preparing to land on my bed. Technically it turned out okay, in that I mean yes, okay, the wings wrenched high above his head don’t actually mirror the way duck wings move in real life, but: despite it being my first go, it looked exactly like a duck. It was identifiable as something you would throw the stale ends of loaves to in the park, like a thing that used to say “quack”, like an animal whose unfeasibly long penis you have Google image-searched long after your bedtime. You could tell this just by looking at him. You didn’t even have to get very close (which is a thing you wouldn’t want to do anyway on account of him smelling funky) (initially) (this goes away). There was no need to ask what it was, or what it used to be, or what happened to its face. Unlike my second attempt.

AkelyCarl Akeley, a taxidermist who was better than me and once wrestled a leopard to death.

Buoyed by the success of my very first venture I went – in hindsight – very prematurely solo. With a box full of stuff I bought off eBay (dental implements, tanning liquid, woodwool, &c.) I laid out a former pigeon on the table in my houseshare’s front room, having patiently waited for everyone to go out. In order to fully explain what went wrong, in stages, I would have to look up the thesaurus entry for “inexpertly” and then deploy every word listed and that would getting boring, so let’s just say: I did some crimes. Big, inexpert, terrible things happened to that bird while the taxidermy L-plates hung askew on my personal buttocks. Before I had even started I did a crime. Instead of persevering with the scalpel blade I was unable to slide onto a freshly purchased Swann-Morton handle, I panicked. I left the house and returned with a fantastically blunt “craft knife” which was just looking out from that plastic window waiting to ruin my day.

pigeon1

Armed thus defectively, I made the first incision (frantic tear with an inappropriate non-medical tool) down the bird’s ribcage. I separated the skin from the meat as taught, and stubbornly carried on with the useless metal thing that I’m pretty sure I saw Neil Buchanan with on Art Attack at some point, until a moment of wild frustration/stabbing resulted in the bird’s stomach contents showering all over me/my housemate’s DVDs. I won’t go into any specific dietary details of the splayed pigeon but I will say I have no eaten sweetcorn since that day. I will say that.

A digressional note on the subject of giblets: A friend of mine once worked in a chicken factory in Wales where they produced the kind of clingfilmed chickens for roasting that you find heaped in a chest freezer in Sainsbury’s. His job on the factory line was to take a bag of giblets — the heart and other visceral organs separated from the animal during butchering — and insert it into the headless, plucked bird before it went off on its conveyor belt to be wrapped. New chicken, new bag, repeat. Once the chicken has been bought at the shop and brought home you can do what you like with the bag of edible offal, but did you ever stop to think on this: that statistically and practically, no chicken will house its own giblets? I think about this at least three times a week. Probably more.

 

A brief explanation of how it’s all done (and considering there are whole books written on the subject, only an idiot would attempt it in two paragraphs) (hi): With the body and meat removed, what you’re left with is the skin, some leg bones picked clean, and a skull. You then force the surprisingly yoghurty brain out of its cavity by tweezing cotton wool into the base of the skull until the pressure becomes too great and the brain has nowhere to go except to explode out of the eye sockets. This step is by far the goriest and stomach-testing of the whole operation on account of brains smell terrible (who knew?) — it’s also the most satisfying and perhaps my favourite of all, matched only by the bit where you pry the whole tongue out of the mouth backwards and lay it out on the newspaper beside you, strategically placed on the face of Alan Davies.

After hours of picking and cleaning and regretting you started you end up with what is essentially a cardigan, and you have to make a body out of woodwool and twine with which to fill it. You model it on the body you’ve not yet thrown out or fed to your culinarily adventurous housemate from Devon, and theoretically the whole thing should fit together properly and look vaguely like what it was before it died on that farm up in Dronfield. And then you wire the limbs, prop the thing up to set, and spend the next two days fretting about the positioning. You have roughly two days to make changes. After that, things start to crack.

From there it (the delicate process of the pigeon, post-stabbing) spiraled into further depths of horrendous stench and despair, and the end result was a clump of damp feathers, split skin, and a face not even a truly demented mother would grow accustomed to. I even accidentally cooked him with a hairdryer. Had I persevered enough to put some eyes in I wouldn’t know where they were supposed to go. I busted both my thumbs doing it and bled all over the carpet. Here is a picture of the monster I made that day:

pigeon2

“Strive to put your mounted animals in easy natural poses

unless you are making a grotesque,

in which case go the length.”

– Albert B. Farnham

Home Taxidermy for Pleasure and Profit, published 1916.

pigeon3No, really.

pigeon4

Anyone who has not made these clumsy forays into DIY taxidermy has probably never wondered where the dead things come from. As self-appointed (in)expert I will lift the veil. You’re welcome.

THIS IS HOW A PERSON WHO LIVES IN THE CITY AND HAS NO PLANS TO KILL ANY ONE-LEGGED MANKY LONDON PIGEONS ENDS UP WITH A MORE OR LESS PERMANENT AVIAN COFFIN AND A SET OF PERTURBED HOUSEMATES WHO PROBABLY WON’T USE THOSE ICE CUBES AFTER ALL, ACTUALLY, NO DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT, REALLY:

The Internet. You discover that can buy a mole for a tenner on eBay. Three crows might cost you twenty. A badly photographed job lot of grim spoils from a game hunt spilled out onto a wet bathroom floor go for thirty. Merely searching for these things changes eBay’s profile on you and they start suggesting sheep thigh bones, dental picks and disembodied hawk feet. You stare at birds in the park like an unknown bearded man watches children through a primary school fence. You watch how their legs fit together, how their wings don’t go like how you made them go like when you got all excited while stuffing that duck. One day you might notice one of them dead on the grass. In real life. And the fact that you don’t have to put a bid on this thing or pay for postage makes your brain start thinking strange new thoughts. These are some of them that you have while standing completely still on Clapham High Street next to a dead crow while everybody else is not standing next to dead crows:

(We could pretend this is hypothetical but obviously that would be lying.)

I could go to Iceland over the road and buy some stuff and they would give me some plastic bags! I could take him home in said bags! All I’d have to do is ditch the choc ices! BUT WHAT IF SOMEBODY STEALS HIM FIRST OH F—

And then your old sane self will pipe up on the other shoulder and bring these words to the table:

What about those people at the bus stop watching me interfering with a dead bird in the dark? What if it’s crowded on the Tube and what if the bus is crowded too, with me standing there with what was clearly a dead crow encased in one single sheath of low-grade plastic bag? And then what if I get home and my housemates are in the kitchen, and they ask me as I open the freezer drawer and shift their bags of bread and peas out of the way: “What’s in the bag?”

I left it in the park. Which is good, because I had just had some major dental work and my slackened face was drooling out one side and I was on the verge becoming some Val Lewton horror sidekick even without the dead crow under my arm.

I took another taxidermy course: a rabbit. Over the course of the next three months as that rabbit sat atop my bookshelf it rotted away to nothing (I live in a mothy house and those moths are seemingly immune to the preservatives with which we drenched this thing plus also and obviously my skills are totally lacking). I didn’t notice it happening and looked up one day to find that its little furry face had disappeared, its ears had shrunk and puckered, and all that remained above the threadbare torso was a dusty skull with some beads shoved in it, a jaw full of cotton balls and a bleak aura of (what would prove to be largely permanent) hairy death shadow creeping outwards from the rabbit and up my walls (hi, My Estate Agent, keeper of the deposit). It ended up in the bin. Here is where it once stood:

deathshadow

But in those initial heady days of rabbit success, before I undoubtedly inhaled unthinkable microscopic rabbit things, I was, again, pretty confident of my own genius. I thought that I would like to try a squirrel next. Another small furry mammal. “I can do small furry mammals,” I said to myself, similarly chuffed as I was, post-duck. I ordered some off an old man in the North who I also found on the Internet. Pete Staines. P Staines, he writes on the back of the parcel. A pest control man with a big freezer whose wife has just left him after 38 years. He had, at the time I phoned him, 300 crows, 50 rooks, a dozen jackdaws, three squirrels in his neighbour’s freezer, and one big broken heart. He asked me if I wanted any of the above.

And this is why I found myself locked in a house, in parcel purgatory. I was unable to shower, to go out and buy food, unable to do any of the things I planned to do until a man in a uniform rang my doorbell and handed me two frozen squirrels. I sat in my candy-striped pajamas (size XXL and a gift from my mum, the size alone caused all manner of trauma and self-doubt) staring at a door that was never knocked, losing tiny pieces of my mind the longer he remained AWOL.

potterWalter Potter, another taxidermist who was better than me whilst simultaneously not being all that great either. Disappointingly, his biography is not subtitled A Life Spent Waiting For The UPS Truck.

The Royal Mail tracking system said WE HAVE YOUR ITEM and nothing more. I phoned them. The robot lady was no help. “If your item is listed as PROGRESSING THROUGH OUR NETWORK FOR DELIVERY we do not know exactly where it is,” she said, the pre-programmed polite version of ‘FUCK KNOWS.’ A non-robot lady said that if my question that I was about to ask was about STAMPS then she would not be able to answer, plus also not to bother her until my parcel had been missing for a full 15 days.

15 days.

I wanted to explain but I was too embarrassed. I used words like “time sensitive delivery” and “awkward” and “no really”. I envisioned a pair of mouldering squirrels in a bloated parcel in the Post Office depot with my name on them. Literally with my name on them. I further envisioned myself marching back to the Post Office with the unopened package and returning to sender. “DEAR P STAINES,” began the letter in my head. “UMM.”

They turned up the next day and they were still chilly and I put them in the freezer and everything was totally fine and thus concludes this anti-climactic story. But taxidermy is anti-climactic, because all you get – even if you’re very good – is a slightly worse version of the thing that existed before you fucked with it.

Illustrations by Eddie Campbell.

Posted in Essays, Ridiculous

Open Letter To My Obituarist

Dear person who is going to tidy my life into one succinct paragraph (or maybe more if you have to make a word count),

In the event of my inevitable death you will be required to write a thing about me and I can only apologise that I have not given you more to go on. As I am not dead yet I will do everything in my power to give you enough for a small column in a tiny local newspaper that nobody will ever read – not that I’m saying your own personal career path is pointless, I’m sure you contribute to local news sections and such also. But in case I don’t, I would like the piece to include/not include the following things:

First and foremost: in the event it transpires I had a fling with the ‘90s actor Dean Cain best known for being Clark in The Adventures of Lois and Clark and then wearing weird turtle-neck sweaters and suede jackets on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and making men squirt milk in record-breaking distances from their tear ducts please do not make that the main hook in this life story. I have seen this happen. That shit is bleak. Do not mention my possible future romance with the ‘90s actor Dean Cain.

Instead you should focus on my future inventions (of which the patents are not even filed let alone pending, see first paragraph for apology). I suggest you hone in on the one piece for which I imagine I will be well known at the time of my death providing that doesn’t happen in the next five to twenty years. The Completo Deleto (obviously a working title) monitors the beat of your heart from afar and immediately wipes your harddrive should that beat stop, thus rendering the In-Case-Of-Death-Please-Delete-My-Porn Friend a thing of the past. It also deletes your Facebook account so it doesn’t become a sappy memorial space or place of annual embarrassment for birthday well-wishers who missed a memo, nixes your Twitter so undue gravity is not lent to the last thing you tweeted about Pauly Shore, and kills that Angelfire website you made when you were 13 where you wrote an essay about blocking a toilet in California and called it I Left My Turd In San Francisco. (It’s still there on page 10 of the Google results. You have forgotten this, but the machine will not. It’s all in my mental blue-print.)

How many words have we got? Do I get a 5,000-word tribute in the New York Times or am I relegated to the 30-word “Flowers no, charity yes” bin? If I died young and if you have a spare paragraph, I want you to focus on my potential. Hark back to those school report cards where I fulfilled none of it because of apathy rather than death (the latter being the new reason for why I didn’t do all the stuff I said I was going to do instead of the actual reason which is I was too busy stalking people on page 10 of Google). Those report cards made me sound like an aloof genius who never had to ask questions because she knew all the answers. Was I a person who knew all the answers? You tell me. Or tell your readers. Hell, I don’t know. I’m just throwing ideas out here. By the time you write this I will be dead and will no longer be required to present proof of knowing answers to anything. You can basically just freewheel this, is what I’m saying.

If my life trajectory continued in the way it’s currently going before I died in a horrific/freak incident involving a tree branch or torso murder or whatever then focus on my interesting death/torso. Do not go for the “true Southern gentlemen like to eat grits and cornbread” approach if I have done nothing notable but die. I don’t want everyone to know that I was living on a strange diet of quinoa because I watched a David Lynch cookery video on YouTube that one time and then got really into quinoa for some reason, spending all my time looking up quinoa recipes instead of writing that novel I always had the potential to write (for example). Tell them I died in pain. Did I get a Wikipedia entry in the end?

If my invention for the self-destructing HD et al. does pan out then chances are you have no photos to run with this thing. I’m sorry. You could get some off my parents but they would be out of date or my parents might be dead and to be honest I’m not sure I want that facial mistake printed in an actual newspaper. Perhaps you could get Charles Burns to rehash a picture of Janeane Garofolo or something. But ibid. my ability to deliver on potentials and actually carry out genius ideas: I predict you are going to be okay. You are going to have plenty of Photobooth pouts to choose from. You are going to have countless photos of me in questionable outfits because, like Cher in Clueless, I do not trust mirrors.

Yours,

imminently deceased,

Hayley Campbell

Posted in Essays

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men: Part II

(Read Part I if you are late to this particular party in which I reveal the things that men say. To me. To my face. To my actual face.)

B.I. #7 01-12

‘I mean, I’m not gay or anything but he is just too handsome. He’s like, I mean, Christ. Have you seen his arms?
Q.
‘China Miéville. When he’s in a tight T-shirt his nipples just stick right out like damn.’
Q.
‘Oh, I wouldn’t even try if I were you. He wouldn’t even look twice at regular, boring-looking people like you and me.’
Q.
‘No seriously, you have seen him, right?’

B.I. #8 01-12

‘May I just say, you bear a striking resemblance to David Boreanaz.’
Q.
‘Angel. You know, from Angel.’
Q.
‘I mean it in a respectful way.’

B.I. #9 01-12

‘I’m a novelist as well as an investment banker, actually.’
Q.
‘No, but I’m about 10,000 words off the end of it. I started it for a thing called NaNoWriMo. Are you familiar with it?’
Q.
‘It’s about a middle-aged divorcee investment banker who goes to Saudi Arabia to help transfer the country to being solar-powered. He also gets attacked by his ex-wife along the way. It’s quite a tale, actually. And it’s good because I know so much about investment banking that the story is all in the details. You know, the investment banking details. It’s a lot more interesting than you might –’
Q.
‘Basically I just did it so I could call myself a novelist at parties. See, I’m doing it now. How do I get it published?’

B.I. #10 01-12
[In which the reader is to imagine this is a perfect phonetic record of the Irish accent in the bar that day.]

‘Yar mek-oop is perfect. It must’ev tekken you hhhuwers.’
(‘Your make-up is perfect. It must have taken you hours.’)
Q.
‘Good work, you. Naht loik in Ireland. De wimmin there, they’ve got hair on dey fess. All over dey fesses, it’s a mess.’
(‘Good work, you. Not like in Ireland. The women there, they’ve got hair on their face. All over their faces, it’s a mess.’)
Q.
‘Naht you though, ye’ve got no hair ahn yer fess at all.’
(‘Not you though, you’ve got no hair on your face at all.’)

B.I. #11 06-12

Q.
‘I’ll come to bed in a minute. I’ve just got to catalogue these last few stamps.’
Q.
‘What?’
Q.
‘I have a really interesting collection, actually.’
Q.
‘Look, ten minutes. I’m almost done with Croatia.’

B.I. #12 06-12

‘Herpes ain’t that bad, apparently. I did a Google. They just get a bad rap! You can only really transmit it when you have a flare-up, and you can control those with your diet and lifestyle or whatever.’
Q.
‘Well yeah, blind babies are bad but I guess it’s probably rare and not all blind peoples’ mothers had a touch of the herp.’
Q.
‘What I’m saying is it ain’t no syphilis.’
Q.
‘I also looked up those guys whose peen-a-weens go left? Or right? You seen them? They just veer off. Some sort of calcification of the skin. Then they can’t put it in because their aim is all off.’
Q.
‘I guess it gets caught in the pipe. And then when they go soft maybe it dribbles out? Hell, I don’t know.’
Q.
‘Anyway, my junk’s fine.’

B.I. #13 06-12

‘Alright?’
Q.
‘Just browsing.’
Q.
‘Just killing time in town, you know how it is. How long have you worked here?’
Q.
‘You’re very tall. Very tall. Have you ever seen the TV show Xena Warrior Princess? She’s very tall too. But now she’s blonde and was in that other show Curb Your Enthusiasm. You know Curb Your Enthusiasm? It’s about this guy, Larry David, and he used to write this other TV show Seinfeld. You ever heard of Seinfeld?’
Q.
‘Well I only ask because not many people in the UK have ever seen it.’
Q.
‘Oh right.’
Q.
‘So anyway this Xena person, she’s huge like you. I don’t think she’s a lesbian though.’
Q.
‘Are you a model?’
Q.
‘You could be a model. Or do you not want to be a model because you’d have to get thin?’

Posted in Essays

Tiny Little Love Stories II

Joel Golby writes hellaciously pretentious little love stories about about dildos and dead grandpas over at tinylittlelovestories. Last year for Valentine’s Day he got a bunch of writers to contribute bits for a VALENSTRAVAGANZA. I wrote three. This year I was ordered to write one or less than one:

__________

The Finger

Michael Smythe learned the fine art of ‘fingering’ off Stephen Hoarsley in the year above. You remember fingering, right? It was new to Smythe. “Stick your index finger up her,” said Hoarsley, a 15-year-old man who ate chips in the park with girls on a semi-regular basis, “and then you get to eat chips in the park with girls on a semi-regular basis.”

The rules set out by self-proclaimed “ladies’ dude” Hoarsley gave no room for creativity: no substitutions were allowed, finger-wise. Dexterity was not The Thing, here. “Do not go off-road, little man,” he said, hitting Smythe on the back of his school blazer, upsetting his orange Tango. “Do not do that thing, little buddo.”

Two hours later Smythe pricked his index finger on a palm frond during a school excursion to a botanically weird garden. As the nurse bandaged it up all horrifying and ET Phone Home, all Smythe could do was stare near catatonically at this totally unfair turn of events, finger-wise. A week later he lost both God and his finger to sepsis and gangrene and the 14-year-old amputee was now pointlessly at a school dance amidst a miasma of Lynx. He was sans fingering finger and basically, and let us put this delicately, had no clue whatsoever w/r/t vaginas nor the humans they came attached to.

Despite this, Elizabeth Ainsley and her glitter lipgloss were inexplicably all up against him, armfuls of thigh bursting out of £3.99 H&M hotpants, while Smythe’s tiny erection cowered in the band of his Spider-Man boxer shorts. His medically delicate hand was held awkwardly aloft. Bored and desperate she later got off with the digitally complete Jeremy Coughlin, and our hero Smythe – never able to skip bases in order to hit his home run, nor apparently physically able to do a perfunctory Google – died resolutely unlaid at the age of 48. Local obituarists deleted the line about choking on a chip in the park, citing “a bit Mama Cass” in their internal memos.

_______

Elsewhere on the internet I’m writing a fortnightly column on indie publishers and books for PlanetNotion. We’re four down and I’ve talked about death-themed children’s books, adopting fears from Woody Allen movies, and dousing myself in book ink. Go read.

Posted in Ridiculous

The Towels In The Gym Cover My Tits Or My Arse But Never Both

Each time a lithe heap of muscle approaches me all wrapped in spandex and says they’re a personal trainer and do I need help I say ‘Yes, I do,’ because obviously. I am new here. I follow it up with my completely true excuse for the visible state of affairs: ‘I’ve spent the last year writing a book,’ I say and, motioning downwards and around-wards I continue: ‘I don’t know what happened but, like, look at me.”

The last bit is a lie and every muscle in the PT’s face – their muscley face, their muscley face – says ‘Yeah you do. You know exactly what you did, you doughy liar’. As they flex and do things with their visible veins I tell them all honest and heartfelt like I’m on Dr Phil that I sat on my own arse until it flattened out and became an unidentified top-end to my thighs. I dab at an invisible tear and tell them I did nothing more physical than typing stuff with my fingers and occasionally lifting a 300-page coffee-table book out of my way, or more likely pushing it weakly across the table until it cleared exactly the right dimensions to fit one packet of chocolate Digestive biscuits. I tell them completely unnecessarily and somewhat panicked that it’s not like I suddenly became obese or anything. I tell them that as long as I’m standing up while naked that being naked is not the most horrific of horrors but things have got soft to the point where I only look human-shaped if nothing is touching me, clothes-wise or seat-wise. They tell me to stop there and would I pick this thing up and put it down again ten times? I say yeah sure, that sounds doable, and the next day I cannot walk.

I sign up for pilates. I did one session of pilates when I was 15 and broken and most of the session was taken up by the bit where I stand in my underpants and a woman circles me with a clipboard telling me which bits of my body are wrong. It was an odd experience and I left there with five sheets of red dot stickers to put up around the house. Whenever I saw a red dot (placed at several eye-height locations) I was to stop stooping like a prematurely 6’1 human with tiny soft-spoken friends and stand up properly. Eventually the red dots became so familiar I stopped seeing them and when I moved out five years later and stood stooping at the airport gates I’m pretty sure they were still there. I never went back to pilates because I only had a coupon for one free session and that shit is expensive, so I never corrected all those bodily imperfections listed by clipboard lady on two sheets of A4 paper which she gave to my newly alarmed 15-year-old self. Front and back.

But listen: I HAVE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS AND I AM BORDERLINE LATE 20s NOW AND THAT IS ALL GOING TO CHANGE.

So I go to pilates. I take a mat off a hook and flop it down in the gap by the door through which a tiny Chinese man bursts and asks if we’re ready to ‘work it work it’. I have just trudged through the snow and am doubtful if I’m ready to work anything, but women look at their own faces sternly in the mirror and tell themselves they are ready to work it. He tells us to stand up and stop crying because he cycled here in these Jesus sandals and is related to Genghis Khan and are we actually ready to work it or not.

We stand up and he clocks me as most definitely new because I am looking at other people and not my own face in the mirror. Why would I look at my own stupid face in the mirror? That face doesn’t know shit. ‘YOU ARE THE DRIVER OF YOUR OWN BODY. STOP LOOKING AT THAT GUY, LADY.’ I mime an awkward sorry. ‘YOU TALL!’ he shouts at me across all the fit people and that one round guy who looks like Nathan Lane who later tells us he’s into musical theatre like it wasn’t obvious. I mime a chubby ‘I know’ and ‘is this relevant’ and we get started. He makes us do things with stretching and breathing and I’m smelling my own knees when suddenly he’s all up in my face, this distant relative of prolific banger Genghis Khan.

‘NICE BODY MOVEMENT. YOU USED TO BE A DANCER, TALL GIRL? BALLET?’

‘Uh. Yes. A million years ago,’ I croak.

‘I CAN SEE BY THE WAY YOU STAND. DON’T STAND LIKE THAT. DON’T POINT YOUR FEET, BALLERINA.’

I quit pointing my feet and start sweating instead. ‘ARE YOU REALLY PERSPIRING THAT HARD, BALLERINA? YOU SWEATY!’ He hands me a napkin. The class stops while I dab my huge red face. Nobody else is sweating except for my best pal Nathan Lane who gets told off for sipping Lucozade and gasping. ‘IS BAD FOR YOU. FULL OF SUGAR. MAKES YOU FAT!’

‘Fatter?’ Nathan blinks with enviable eyelashes and looks down at a possible 6-month pregnancy. He tucks the Lucozade into a shoe and shoots me a sheepish look, sweaty failure to sweaty failure.

‘HEY BALLERINA,’ he says ‘MOVE DOWN THE FRONT SO I DON’T HAVE TO KEEP COMING BACK THERE TO GIVE YOU NAPKINS FOR YOUR SWEATY FACE.’

‘Uh. No.’

‘NO? MOVE HERE NOW.’

The class stops again while I and my face drag a damp mat to the front of the class. I am ten-years-old again being made to sit at the teacher’s desk for making Jeremy Clarke laugh so hard he snapped a leg (the chair’s) while falling off it.

‘YOU A TENSE PERSON? YOUR SHOULDERS SAY YOU’RE TENSE. ARE YOU ANGRY ALL THE TIME, BALLERINA?’

‘Yes.’

‘I SHOULD BE A FORTUNE TELLER OR MAYBE YOU’RE JUST TOO OBVIOUSLY ANGRY. BE LESS ANGRY, BALLERINA.’

I reposition my eyebrows but you can’t swallow 26 years of angry just because some guy in tiny shorts tells you to.

‘HEY BALLERINA,’ he shouts an hour later when the class starts filing out. ‘AREN’T YOU TOO BIG TO BE A BALLERINA? YOU HUGE! HEY YOU KNOW WHO MY FAVOURITE DANCER IS, BALLERINA? NOT MICHAEL FLATLEY, BUT THE EVIL ONE IN THE LORD OF THE DANCE. SHE HAS NICE DRESSES.’

I stomped back home in the snow and fell over in the park, splayed like a fucked turtle on his shell/gym bag. I scrabbled on my knees to locate the phone I hurled at the frozen pond and I thought to myself: I am gonna be so buff.

Posted in Essays

Sucked Dry

I am in no way qualified to spout opinions on the breastfeeding of tiny babies seeing as I have pushed no baby out of my body ever. Know this. The reasons for inexpertly floating the subject are two-fold: i. it’s the internet, I can do what I want and ii. recently I passed a Stoke Newington café bulging with new mums, awkwardly parked buggies and romper-suited bubbas. The mum near the window was pressing an enormous brown nipple into the face of her tiny pink spawn and the thing gurgled happily. Protocol dictates that the job of the accidental viewer on seeing this is to politely unsee it, to let your eyes slide off the naked bit of lady and land instead on her plate of jam scones or whatever. Your correspondant did this. Mums should feel free to get them out, is what I’m saying.

I am all for the natural feeding of babies. I like buying a thing and using it for the exact purpose it was created for – it makes me feel prepared and in control, a master of my domain in a non-masturbatory sense; I like old specialist shops run by ancient men who have spent the last 70 years selling nothing but umbrellas. Using tits for their predestined duty is exactly what you should do with them. These two tanks of milk with mouthpieces were designed for feeding tiny babies. Do it in public. Do it in private. Do it to appease the tiny hungry mouth screaming next to the person who’s come to the café to write an article on their laptop. But the important thing, and this is the crux of my point here, is to stop doing it. You know, at some point in the child’s near future.

[For the benefit of the tape our opinionated monster is now showing a flashback scene]

We’d just moved into a new house in a new neighbourhood. I was twelve, my sister eight, and my brother six. None of us had drunk milk out of a human for some years. The family in the house across the road invited us over for a welcome barbeque, just a little get together to meet the people who you hope will call the cops if they see a burglar attempting an inelegant entrance through the front window. We made potato salad, we brought over a bunch of beer and lemonade. We sat out on the porch – him and her and their three kids and us – and everything was fine until this one kid, this grown-ass girl of about eight years old starts making eyes at her mum over the lettuce.

“Not now, you’ve had lunch.”

“But mum….”

“Not now, we’ve got guests,” she said. “Go and play Nintendo.”

But she didn’t go play Nintendo. Her mum, a desiccated husk of a woman approaching fifty, uncrossed her legs and motioned for the accidental pregnancy to sit on her skeleton lap. Then she hefted her loose summer shirt and revealed to us – the barbeque guests – one saggy former breast, a deflated isosceles triangle, an ungenerous samosa. She tweezed it between thumb and forefinger and eased it gently into mouth of this kid who had a full-house, teeth-wise. The owner of the teat asked if we’d like some more taramasalata. He daughter, feet resting on the floor, sucked her deflated mother dry.

Our expedited exit was blamed, respectively, on “work”, “football practice”, and on a “science experiment involving a potato”, and we made our way across the street, up the stairs and shut the door, whereupon a speechless family of five gaped at each other across a front room like “What the fuck was that?”

We never reciprocated the barbeque invite.

So my point is sure, breastfeed all you want in public. But if your kid has reached and breached the boundaries of a rollercoaster height requirement: put a cap on that milkjug.

Posted in Essays

The Dreaded Ninth

My first proper boyfriend — I say proper meaning we lived together and our collective underpants tumbled together in one 60-degree machine wash — was a man with little to no taste. He owned exactly two CDs. This is not because he had transferred music onto his computer and found he had no use for the CDs now that he had a collection of mp3s. No. This was a man who had purchased two CDs in his entire adult life. He was almost thirty.

CD #1 was a Gomez album. I don’t know which one. I cannot name any Gomez albums. No one has ever legitimately liked the band Gomez. He would play it on repeat any time he felt relaxed enough to kick back in his sandals, have a glass of rosé wine, and smoke a Marlboro Light. It never occurred to me at the time that I was essentially dating an aunt.

CD #2 was Neil Young’s Harvest. It would be put on whenever Gomez was not on, and would be the sole soundtrack to any dinner we ever had. My own attempts to change such things were nixed, quietly removed, and Neil Young’s Harvest was slipped wordlessly into the CD player. He would sit at the head of the table and the following scripted conversation would play out, every time, as if it were the first time he had ever thought of these words re: Neil Young.

“I mean, he’s just so — There’s just no one better. Name a better album than Neil Young’s Harvest. See? You can’t. He’s just so… Well, you know what I mean. He’s just so…”

And he would wave his hand around as if searching for the word, shake his head in disbelief at just how so Neil Young was, never ever in the time I knew him being able to think of a descriptive term to apply to this man, or this album, which I have heard on repeat circa nine-thousand times.

As a consequence of this relationship I now have Clockwork Orange style breakdowns whenever I hear a track off the Neil Young album Harvest. At work, when our newly pressed playlist chooses Neil Young’s Heart of Gold — on supposed “random” meaning roughly three times a day, ignoring the thousands of other songs like it knows I will leap boxes, chairs, and counters just to hit that skip button. I would cross an ocean to skip a Heart of Gold. And everyone else is trained to do likewise.

Six months ago the bicycle I was riding to work fell to pieces beneath me and I flew over the handles, landed on my face, and used my mouth as an airbag for the rest of me. I don’t remember any of it, but apparently the pavement looked like a Jackson Pollock. I had a pretty major concussion, was ambulanced to A&E, and what is important to this story in particular is that all of my front teeth were pushed in. Not knocked-out, they just angled inwards so that I could not bite or close my mouth. I sounded like the Elephant Man and I had to eat soup only soup for about two months while I pushed them back into position with my tongue.

I also had to endure months of expensive dental work at the hands of German man called Lars. Lars looks like a bearded garden gnome, small and stout, sounds exactly like Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man and has the most perfect blue-white teeth I have ever seen inside a human face. Lars likes to listen to the radio while he works — no special channel, just your regular pop/rock channel that might blast through a tinny portable at a garage while a man whose face you can’t see tinkers with the underneath of your car. He likes to sing along, his face hidden behind a white mask, while putting things in my mouth. In my anaesthesia haze I quite liked hearing his teutonic version of DeBarge’s Rhythm of the Night as he covered my face in blue plastic and inserted my blackened tooth through a slit to ready it for a root canal. The day Donna Summer died a tear of silent laughter rolled down my face and was hoovered by the dental nurse’s suction tube all because his rendition of Hot Stuff was perhaps the greatest thing I had ever witnessed. But when the first bar of Heart of Gold sounded like a Blitz klaxon my groan was muffled by a collection of stainless steel implements and Lars’ latex gloves.

Huuuuuuunnnnngghhhhhh!!!”

“Are you alright?” he asked, concerned, switching off the drill. “Do you need more anaesthetic?”

Huuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnghhhhhh!!”

Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. Like a shit into my open mouth.

“Huuuuuuuuuunnnghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!”

(He didn’t turn it off.)

Posted in Essays